A fire is burning hotter every day in the state of Florida. This fire is much like that set by the former slave owners and their terrorist arm, the Ku Klux Klan, against the post-Civil War Reconstruction. Yesterday and today the racist arsonists seek to destroy any semblance of African-American political power.
Prior to the 2004 elections, Florida’s Gov. Jeb Bush attempted to reprise the so-called felons list which so effectively suppressed the Black vote in the 2000 election. Bush took active measures to keep the 2004 list in the shadows. His motivation in that regard became clear when media outlets petitioned the courts and the list was forced into the light. The names of more than 22,000 African-Americans appeared on the list of 47,763 alleged felons. Meanwhile, 61 Hispanics were listed.
For three decades beginning in the 1950’s Black Miamians were empowered through Charles R. Hadley’s Operation Big Vote. So revered is Hadley, a public park and public elementary school proudly bear his name. But the Charles R. Hadley of the Orlando area, the director of the Orange County Voters League, Ezzie Thomas, today stands accused of a crime in Bush’s Florida. Thomas’ activism and an unprecedented Black voter turnout was a major factor in the shocking political upset on Feb. 25, 2003 that made Buddy Dyer the first Democratic mayor of Orlando in history. Thomas helped Dyer be reelected on March 9, 2004.
Shortly after Dyer’s victories, agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) descended on the homes of elderly and infirmed Black absentee voters. Several of those interrogated reported later that agents hiked up pants legs or in some other manner displayed firearms. The FDLE message of intimidation hardly less subtle than a burning cross but Ezzie Thomas went back to work and again turned out large numbers of African-Americans on Nov. 2, 2004. Ezzie Thomas was taken into custody on March 11, 2005 and paraded through a phalanx of news camera to the jailhouse. To paraphrase the charge against Thomas, he believed Black people had the right to vote. It harkens back to Election Day in 1920. Then a white mob laid siege to the black town of Ocoee, not far from Orlando, after a Black man, allegedly carrying a weapon, demanded his right to vote. Ocoee was burned to the ground and half-a-dozen residents killed.
Back in Miami, the Internal Revenue Service is trying to settle another score with Black voters. The IRS, fresh off its attack on the NAACP, has opened an inquiry into the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and its pastor, Rev. Gaston Smith. The IRS has the power to effectively burn down this Black church by revoking its tax exempt status. The church’s crime? Rev. Smith dared to receive presidential hopeful John Kerry at an October Sunday prior to the 2004 election. The persons who complained to the IRS? Their identities are protected by the IRS in the same manner that hoods once kept racist marauders anonymous.
PAUL A. MOORE lives in Miami Lakes, Florida. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org